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Toward a Renaissance of Classical Culture

This article was written by Mrs. Helga Zepp LaRouche, Founder of the International Schiller Institute and president of the Schiller Institute in Germany, for publication in the May 2012 German language magazine “Ibykus.”

What has become of our world? Top bankers are warning about the “apocalypse”—which doesn’t prevent them at the same time from stuffing seven-figure bonuses into their pockets—as if burial shrouds had pockets! Politicians are willing to sell their own grandmothers in order to calm down “the markets,” while the General Welfare which they have sworn to protect, has been erased from their vocabulary. Heads of government who have just finished expunging democracy and constitutional rule from their own countries, are now prepared, under the pretext of concern for democracy and human rights, to march from a “humanitarian intervention” into a neighboring land, straight into a thermonuclear apocalypse.

Hundreds of millions of human beings are under dire threat of starvation, disease, and lack of clean water; but meanwhile at church councils, the use of bio-fuels is defended, and the popes of environmentalism get decorated with the Medal of Honor for stopping agricultural production and water management, causing millions of human lives to be lost. For decades, “society” has been tolerating the tearing down of one bastion of civilized behavior after another; and so is it any wonder now, that twelve-year-olds are downloading pornographic videos onto their smart phones and showing them around on the school playground; or that it’s considered almost normal that individuals riding the subway or walking on side-streets are “ripped off,” and have to relinquish all their valuables in order to forestall something far worse? Might we not, then, say that a society in which teenagers are the most menacing social grouping, can be considered a failed society?

This list of social evils could be expanded in many directions. It’s certainly true that the root of many of the problems lies in the false axiomatics of economic, military, and social policy. Yet perhaps the most important area where development has gone completely awry, is the shift in cultural paradigm in the western world over recent decades.

Even if during the decades of Germany’s post-war reconstruction everything wasn’t perfect, nonetheless the vector of development was positive: There was an enormous desire to rebuild, and secondary virtues such as diligence and honesty—virtues later denigrated—fostered the General Welfare and promoted social cohesion. Our schools were still governed by the Humboldt educational ideal, namely that developing beauty of character within each student was at least one aspect of the goals of education. Classical culture in music, poetry, and the fine arts played an important role in all grades, but especially in our Gymnasia.

The fact that this has long not been the case, is due to many factors: the Frankfurt School’s deconstructive role regarding Classical music and poetry, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, the advent of “director’s theater,” the Brandt educational reforms, the ’68er movement, the counterculture, and pop culture in general. The end-result of all these influences is a cultural wasteland: shriveled hearts, bereft of all ability to experience profound intellectual emotion; and for many of our fellow men, a loss of the ability to judge, with any sense of justice and injustice supplanted by a striving to conform to popular opinion.

If Schiller, already in his own time—and even more concretely after he witnessed the failure of the French Revolution—had to ask: “How has it come to pass that we are still barbarians?”, then how much more urgently would he be posing that question, horror-filled, today? Unfortunately, yet another facet of our time demonstrates how right he was, that a society that has degenerated from a higher level to a lower one, is more despicable than one that is still striving to free itself from underdevelopment. In his Fifth Aesthetic Letter, Schiller writes:

“Through his actions, Man portrays himself—and what an awful form do we see depicted in our present-day drama! Here brutalization, there decadence: the two extremes of human corruption—and both united in one age of history!

“In the lower and more numerous classes, we see raw, lawless impulses, unleashed after all bands of civil order have been dissolved, rushing with ungovernable impetuosity toward bestial satiation…. Its rudder gone, our society, instead of speeding upwards into organic life, is relapsing back into the inorganic domain.

“On the other side, the civilized classes present us with an even more detestable spectacle of decadence and depravity of character, which disgusts us all the more because it feeds upon the culture itself. I no longer remember which ancient or modern philosopher remarked that the nobler person is all the more abhorrent in his self-destruction; but one will find this true in the moral realm as well. From the savage, run amok, there emerges a madman; from the disciple of art, a worthless nothing.”

In further letters, Schiller discusses how, in view of this situation, any improvement in the political domain can only come about through the ennoblement of individual man’s character—an insight which is equally true today as it was in his own time. But whence, asks Schiller, is this ennoblement to come, when the masses are desensitized, and the nation is in a state of barbarism? And in his Ninth Letter he arrives at the point “toward which I have been striving in all my previous remarks. This instrument is Classical art; these wellsprings open up to us in their immortal exemplars. Art, as well as science, is absolved from everything based on mere sense-experience and imposed by human convention, and both enjoy absolute immunity from the arbitrariness of men.”

The key to overcoming the present existential crisis therefore lies in affording people access to their own creativity, in rekindling within them the divine spark which brings their full human potential to fruition. Our task is thus to strengthen this faculty of the human spirit—a place where scientific discoveries are made, which is the same place where Classical art is born, and where musical and poetical ideas are developed according to the criteria of Classical composition. Whenever man discovers new universal scientific principles, or when the composer or poet harkens to the rules of Classical composition, or lawfully extends them, then the creativity of an inventive mind comes into complete harmony with the creatively self-developing physical universe.

And thus, if we wish to survive the present crisis, a renaissance of Classical culture will be the absolute prerequisite. Therefore the Schiller Institute, along with its cultural journal Ibykus, supports Lynn Yen’s initiative (see below), and calls upon all artists and friends of Classical art to become part of a worldwide movement which will continue to fight for this renaissance until we have banished the current Dark Age—just as the Golden Renaissance of the 15th Century banished the 14th-Century Dark Age, and as German Classicism overcame the destruction wrought by the Thirty Years War.

Please also read Open Letter from Lynn Yen to Classical Artists in the Whole World!